The House of the Seven Gables Summary

Nathaniel Hawthorne starts his book “The House of the Seven Gables” from the preface, stating that his work is a romance, not a novel. So, the real events in it will be tightly interwoven with fantasy. Also, the author describes the main theme of the book: the evil deeds made by one generation will live longer than the people responsible for them and their consequences will horribly backfire later, hurting the descendants.

When Massachusetts was only recently founded, a rich and respected man named Colonel Pyncheon lived there. He wanted to build a spacious and beautiful house for his family to live and for his descendants to inherit. He carefully chooses the place for his new estate and finds the one near the spring with clear water and with beautiful landscapes around. The only obstacle is that the land is already owned by another person - a poor man named Matthew Maule.

Matthew loves his land and blatantly refuses to sell it. He cleared it and cared for it for years and has all the rights to consider it his own. Failing to get the land peacefully, Colonel Pyncheon falsely accuses Maule of witchcraft and uses his influence to persuade the people that he is guilty. Matthew is condemned, but before he is hanged he is given the last word to say. He lays a curse to the Colonel, asking God to give him “blood to drink”.

Once Maule is dead, nothing stops Colonel Pyncheon from buying the land anymore. He starts the building of beautiful mansion he calls The House of the Seven Gables. He goes as far in his cynicism as to hire Matthew’s son, Thomas, as the leading constructor and architect of the house. The house is indeed beautiful and built in time, but when the Colonel throws a housewarming party, the guests find him dead in his chair, with the blood dripping from his mouth to his neck. This cruel and unusual death reminds everyone about Matthew Maule’s curse.

More than a hundred years pass. All the Pyncheon family endures constant misfortunes. The house is almost abandoned, dark and gloomy. Everyone around knows that all the family is cursed, and no one is willing to deal with them. The biggest problem for Pyncheons is that the deed to big piece of land in Maine (that brought them the biggest part of their income) was lost on the day when Colonel Pyncheon was found dead. Without the deed, the modern Pyncheons can’t restore their wealth and social status.

The patriarch of the Pyncheon family decides to lift the curse by apologizing before Maule’s family. Knowing that their house is literally built on the blood of Matthew Maule, he decides to present the House of the Seven Gables to his descendants. But he also mysteriously dies right before he signs the documents. Clifford Pyncheon, his nephew, is accused of murder and is incarcerated. The heritage of Pyncheon family is divided between Clifford’s cousin Jaffrey (who gets everything except the House of the Seven Gables) and Clifford’s sister Hepzibah, who inherits the house.

Thirty years later Hepzibah Pyncheon is still living in the House of the Seven Gables. She is alone, very shy and a bit odd, as people think. Her finances are so scarce that Hepzibah has to open a small shop and work there to survive. Her cousin Jeffrey, in the meantime, became a prosperous judge and increases his wealth from year to year. He constantly tries to support Hepzibah, or even take her away to live with him, but the pride of the woman doesn’t allow her to accept any help, or so it seems at the first glance.

What is the real cause is the fact that Hepzibah knows the truth about the murder. She knows that Jeffrey was the one who killed the previous Pyncheon, he also framed his brother Clifford for murder to get everything himself. Hepzibah didn’t have clear proofs at that time and couldn’t do anything to rescue Clifford. So, Clifford was condemned for thirty years in prison for the crime he didn’t commit. Now he is going to be released soon and Hepzibah is waiting for him impatiently. Both she and Clifford know that Judge Puncheon is as self-righteous, immoral and stern as the first Colonel Pyncheon, so they aren’t expecting anything good from him.

Suddenly, Hepzibah’s young niece Phoebe knocks at her door. Preparing for Clifford’s return, she doesn’t expect any guests, but Phoebe explains to her that her father has just remarried again and, after a family conflict, Phoebe needs some place to live until she finds her own home. Hepzibah allows her to live for a while in the House of the Seven Gables and asks him to help her with the shop in exchange. Phoebe is a smart, kind and cheerful girl, who makes Hepzibah feel less lonely and much more lively. When Clifford returns home, he also immediately loves Phoebe and starts to care for her as for his own daughter.

Another person Phoebe meets and befriends is the lodger of the house, Mr. Holgrave. Mr. Holgrave is also considered weird by the locals: he is only twenty-two years old, but he does everything, including the strangest jobs possible. He is an idealist who believes that the society can and should be reformed for good and no one should cling to the past too much. He constantly argues with Hepzibah about it, telling her that her pride and devotion to the family cause her to suffer intensely. Mr. Holgrave thinks that Hepzibah should sell the House of Seven Gables for good and start her life anew.

When Phoebe calms down a bit, she decides to return to her family and try to get along with them. But she promises to return to the House of the Seven Gables right after she settles the conflict, because the girl really loves living there with her new family and also she understands that Hepzibah really needs her in the shop. But when Phoebe leaves the house, Judge Pyncheon immediately comes to the House of the Seven Gables and demands to see Clifford. Hepzibah objects, afraid that the stress can kill her brother, who hasn’t recovered from the imprisonment yet. But the Judge is obsessed with some hidden family treasure and he is sure that Clifford knows where it is. It looks like madness to Hepzibah: if Clifford knew such a secret he would already dig the treasure out. Moreover, why should Clifford knew about the treasure at all? And why the incredibly rich Judge Pyncheon needs more money?

The Judge doesn’t care about Hepzibah’s opinion. He just enters the house and sits there, waiting for Clifford to return from work. But while he is sitting in the chair (on that very place his ancestor sat in his last day) he suddenly has a heart attack and dies on the spot. When Clifford comes home he is delighted to see his nemesis dead and not dangerous anymore. But now they are the main suspects, so Clifford takes Hepzibah and they immediately run away via the random train, getting as far as possible from the corpse of the Judge.

When the locals discover their disappearance, and also the disappearance of Judge Pyncheon, they start to wonder if the curse is awake again. Of course, the townsfolk immediately accuse Clifford and Hepzibah of murdering Jeffrey. But when Mr. Holgrave finds and examines the body of the Judge, he discovers that Jeffrey died of natural cause. Still the escape of Clifford and Hepzibah makes them look bad and suspicious. So, Mr. Holgrave keeps what he found out secret, because he understands that anyone will still blame the absent house owners anyway.

While the people are inventing new theories and gossiping about them, Phoebe returns as she promised. But the only person she finds in the House of the Seven Gables is Mr. Holgrave. He tells her the story about Judge Pyncheon’s death and Hepzibah’s and Clifford’s sudden escape. Mr. Holgrave also has his own theory that includes the fact that Clifford didn’t murder his uncle thirty years ago. Moreover, it is possible that Jeffrey wasn’t the murderer either: he died of heart attack. The heart attack seemed to be caused by hereditary disease that Jeffrey could share with Clifford’s uncle. After the former Pyncheon patriarch died of natural causes, someone arranged everything to make it look like a murder. Of course, the main suspect is Judge Pyncheon. Mr. Holgrave hopes that Clifford will eventually return and he will be able to clear Clifford’s name before the local authorities, using the evidences and proofs Mr. Holgrave now has.

But Mr. Holgrave is glad to see Phoebe not only because he now has the audience to listen to his theory. Amidst of the explanation he suddenly declares his love to the girl. While Phoebe is still tries to wrap her mind around what she has just heard, Clifford and Hepzibah finally return, realizing that panicking isn’t the option. They have a brief family council where Mr. Holgrave tells him what he discovered once more and then Hepzibah and her brother agree to go to the authorities and tell them the whole story about the inherited disease and false murder.

After they all reveal the truth their neighbors finally believe that Clifford isn’t a murderer and Judge Pyncheon is a real criminal. The Judge doesn’t have any heirs, his only son died several years ago. So all his wealth is divided between Hepzibah and Clifford (and, of course, they don’t let Phoebe behind). Having enough money to go away, the family decides to move out of the House of the Seven Gables forever and start a new life in the former house of Judge Pyncheon. Phoebe realizes that Mr. Clifford’s feelings to her are mutual and the two become engaged.

Before they leave, Mr. Holgrave asks them to go with him to show them something special. He opens a secret compartment in one of the house walls and takes the deed to land in Maine that caused the initial poverty of the Pyncheon family. He tells the shocked Hepzibah and Clifford that now this deed is useless, because the land is long ago owned and populated by other people, but centuries ago Matthew Maule’s son, Thomas, stole it and put it into this secret compartment to avenge the death of his father. But the most interesting thing is that Mr. Holgrave knows the story, because he is a distant descendant of Thomas Maule and this story was passed in his family from one generation to another. Now, with the love of Phoebe Pyncheon and Mr. Holgrave, the rivalry between the families finally ends and the curse of Matthew Maule is lifted.